LONDON — In the same week that the nation sighed with relief with news that Bartle Bogle Hegarty had finally dispensed with the educationally sub-normal son of the Tesco family, who has presumably been buried under the patio by his exasperated parents (let’s face it, it’s unlikely that he’s got a place at university), the ad industry found itself inhaling in surprise at yet another departure from the agency that created it.
The deputy executive creative director Rosie Arnold is the latest high profile and long-serving person to leave BBH. Her departure to Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO immediately follows that of Mel Exon's resignation as managing director.
This itself was startling as it came just weeks after BBH’s joint chief strategy officers Jonathan Bottomley and Jason Gonsalves also announced they were off — the former relocating to the US and the latter to become chief executive of Mcgarrybowen.
In one stroke, three of the four people (along with Caroline Pay) who had been entrusted to be the management team of the London ad agency had quit.
While no one doubts Exon’s ability also matches her ambition and that the opportunity to become chief executive of The Sunshine Company was one that was too good to turn down, Exon et al had only been handed the keys to the executive restroom less than two years ago — a blinking of an eye in BBH terms. And her presence on the agency had yet to be really felt in the same way as that of previous incumbents of that job.
Inevitably tongues were set wagging. After all, BBH had already seen so many of its old guard leave, and for the new guard to also follow them out the door on Kingly Street suggests something might be going awry.
So what’s going on?
When BBH sold to Publicis Groupe in an upfront cash deal in 2012 much was made by the agency of the sanctity of the holy covenant that the BBH management team had put in place to ensure the agency’s medium-term independence and distinctiveness.
It gave the impression that the shop would continue in its vein — business as usual, but just with a larger than usual number of millionaires on the payroll.
But it was revealing that as soon as the lock-in period was up, the worldwide chief executive Gwyn Jones, quickly followed by group chairman Simon Sherwood and its totemic chairman Jim Carroll, all quit.
Charlie Rudd, a key lieutenant of chief executive Ben Fennell, followed shortly afterwards to take the top job at Ogilvy & Mather. In BBH terms the covenant had led to something of an exodus, instead of protecting what should have been most holy.
On balance it’s perfectly understandable that Jones, Sherwood and Carroll would want to spend more time with the money, what’s more surprising is that the most recent departures haven’t decided to see out their days in genteel retirement, but have taken their skills to other agencies.
The tight knit, loyal — cultish even — bonds of family that tied BBH together seem to be no more.
Fennell has had to move quickly to fill the gaps. Admitting that Exon’s move was a surprise, he has shifted Adam Arnold into the role — someone who many people wouldn’t really know from, err, Adam.
Fennell likes nothing more than a sporting metaphor to describe business and talks about the strength of the bench.
Publicly, at least, Arnold is an unknown quality so his bench strength is something that should soon become apparent. But if any lessons can be learned from the upheaval at BBH it’s the importance of having a succession management scheme in place.
This article first appeared on campaignlive.co.uk.